A lawsuit has been dismissed against McLean Bible Church in suburban Washington, D.C., after apparent resolution of a battle between church leaders and internal critics who believed the conservative evangelical church was becoming too “woke.”
The dispute came to a head in 2021, soon after David Platt left the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention to become full-time pastor of the nondenominational church that is home to many of Washington’s conservative elite.
While both Platt and the church itself would appear to outsider observers as well on the conservative end of the political and theological spectrum, some members accused Platt of trading “biblical” teaching for social justice and Critical Race Theory.
Some members accused Platt of trading “biblical” teaching for social justice and Critical Race Theory.
The runup to this dispute overlapped a period of tremendous divisiveness in American politics and religion, including the 2020 presidential election, COVID-19 and a summer of racial reckoning sparked by more police murders of unarmed Black citizens. To some ultra-conservatives, the mere mention of Black Lives Matter is a sign of liberalism, while other conservative evangelicals take a more holistic approach that sees systemic racism as a reality that defies even conservative biblical teaching.
At McLean, this dispute spilled over into the election of elders. Like many nondenominational congregations, McLean is led by a small team of male elders. On June 30, 2021, the election of elders for the first time in the church’s 60-year history failed to achieve the required three-fourths affirmation from the congregation.
An opposition group had organized and even formed a Facebook group called “Save McLean Bible Church” to air their complaints. Rumors were spreading that Platt intended to sell some church property for construction of a Muslim mosque.
Some church leaders and supporters claimed the critics behaved in unethical ways in spreading rumors and rounding up inactive members to come back to church to vote against the slate of elders.
After the failed election, a second election was scheduled a few weeks later, but this time members were required to sign their ballots. Critics said that violated church policies, which led to the lawsuit.
Amid the lawsuit, the three elders who had been challenged in 2021 resigned their posts and were renominated along with three others. Critics said that, too, should not have been allowed, claiming only people who were church members before June 2021 should have been allowed to vote.
Regardless, all six elder candidates received at least 86% affirmative votes. That rounded out the current slate of nine elders.
The lawsuit was dismissed after church leaders worked through a six-part plan approved by the congregation. This Plan for Lawsuit Resolution involved asking the three contested elders to resign and stand for a new election.
The final step in the plan called for dismissal of the lawsuit “in light of the church’s clear desire to move forward under the leadership of the new board.” A statement from the church explained: “Because the plaintiffs would not agree to meet or discuss a dismissal, MBC filed a formal motion on June 10 asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit and to recognize the clear desire of the MBC congregation to move forward in unity under the leadership of elders who were nominated and elected by church membership. MBC’s motion was granted and a formal order of dismissal was declared on Friday, June 24. As a result, the lawsuit is now over and cannot be refiled.”
That action did not sit well with the church’s internal critics, who have posted multiple responses on their Facebook page.
“Praying for the remnant. For those who are working to reveal the truth and seek righteousness. Satan is working overtime to thwart your plans and destroy you.”
One says: “Praying for the remnant. For those who are working to reveal the truth and seek righteousness. Satan is working overtime to thwart your plans and destroy you. Remember God goes before you. Stay strong. ‘For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Ephesians 6:12.”
To which one longtime church member who counts herself among the critics publicly airs accusations that Platt never should have been brought on as pastor because he is a Southern Baptist and the church was intentionally begun as a nondenominational church.
Various posts on the Facebook group’s page imply that Platt and other church leaders represent forces of evil seeking to destroy the church.
For his part, Platt told worshipers at all five campuses this weekend: “By God’s grace, our church family has come together in ways far beyond what I could have imagined to resolve conflict as biblically and peacefully as possible. Amidst a divisive culture around us, members of our church family have clearly stated that they want to move forward together as a thriving, united church bringing hope to the nations, starting here in Washington, D.C. I know that many churches across America have faced and are facing similar challenges during these days, and it is vitally important that we move past division and live out John 13:35, demonstrating love for one another and love for a world in need of Jesus.”
Wade Burnett, lead pastor for executive leadership, put the situation in a national context: “The conflict at MBC is just one more picture of the larger differences we see all over the country. Families and friendships and congregations and countless other foundational parts of our lives have been upended and changed in ways that have been both painful and disorienting. But through it all, God has been both present and faithful, and in his word we are provided with a clear call to pursue peace so far as it depends on us.
“I’m incredibly grateful for the courage of our church in staying together and persevering, in pursuing peace in ways that required numerous steps of faith, and for trusting God all the way through to the actual dismissal of the lawsuit,” he added. “These challenges are building a deeper unity and passion in all of us, and I cannot wait to see what God will do in and through all of our incredibly gifted and diverse church members in the new chapter ahead.”
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